After 5 years of living in the home I share with my husband and his kids, I finally unpacked the boxes of dishes I inherited from my mother, aunt, and grandmothers. Why I didn’t unpack them until now, I have no idea. All I know is that they sat in a corner of the basement, quiet, out of the way, minding their own business, and not making waves.
It was no small irony to observe that for the first few years of my marriage to a man with children from a previous marriage that I also tried to be quiet, stay out of the way, mind my own business and not make waves. Sure, I had a few moments over the years when I erupted because the enormity of the feelings inside was so great I couldn’t contain them any longer. But mostly, largely, I’ve remained supportive of my husband, advocated for what seemed best for the kids even when they didn’t know they had an advocate, and been a huge champion for community-building and sharing. You know, all that stuff they teach in kindergarten.
First, I hauled the 4 small boxes from their place in the basement, blew off the dust and removed the delicate contents, much of it from the depression-era. These pieces I’d gathered over the years, shards of my maternal ancestry, were mismatched and chipped and incomplete sets of Franciscan glasses, delicate dessert cups, pink-ish wine goblets, and my favorite, a set of 50’s plastic-coated tumblers. I remembered them all from my grandmother’s house when we went there for family dinners.
Now, I wonder. Did I leave them in the boxes because they weren’t complete sets, because they weren’t functional? Did I leave them in the boxes so they wouldn’t be broken, nevermind that we have some beautiful built in cabinets in our 1921 bungalow that would have kept them safe. Or worse, did I leave them in the boxes because I didn’t think they would measure up?
By now, the metaphor may be obvious, but it took me 5 years to figure it out. Now, I want to shout it out to all newly married women who’ve got new husbands complete with children from another marriage . . . unpack the glassware! Don’t wait. Don’t apologize. Don’t let your life mean less than the ones that you live with. Work together with your husband and make room in the cabinets for the things that matter to you both.
My husband is thrilled, he’s excited to see these things from my mother and her family. Despite my initial shyness in bringing them out, it makes complete sense. When his grandmother (his stepmother’s mother) died, he inherited several antiques including the dining room table we use today. Every year on the holidays we put all the leaves in the table and stretch it out to completely fill our dining room. If we use chairs without arms, we can squeeze 12 around the table and we’ve done that plenty of times.
One year over the turkey dinner, my husband’s stepmother confessed that her mother used to fill this very same table every night at the boarding house where she worked as the cook. My mother-in-law was thrilled to see that we also regularly bring a community together around the table and it means a lot to her that we enjoy the beauty of the table.
I got up this morning and felt somehow different walking through the dining room past the glass-fronted cabinets. There are things in there that belong to me, that have a history marked by my relatives. My female ancestors drank from these glasses and washed and dried and stored them away in their cabinets. I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer to have them in my daily life.